Jonathan C. Slaght received an undergraduate degree in Russian Language from Drew University (Madison, NJ, USA) in 1998, then served in the United States Peace Corps in Primorye, Russia between 1999-2002, where he lived in the villages of Lazo and Ternei teaching English and Environmental Education. He received a Master’s Degree in Conservation Biology (2005) and a Ph.D. in Wildlife Conservation (2011) from the University of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN, USA) studying birds in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains. Since 2011, Jonathan has been Projects Manager for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russia Program. He is involved in research projects of owls, tigers, and musk deer, works with Russian graduate students to improve the scientific quality of their dissertation projects, and oversees grants. Since 2012 he has also acted as the English-language Editor of the Far Eastern Journal of Ornithology. Jonathan has authored several dozen scientific and popular publications, and had translated numerous scientific and popular texts from Russian. His research has been featured in The New York Times, National Public Radio, Scientific American, Smithsonian Magazine, and Audubon Magazine, among others. He splits his time between Primorye and his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota that he shares with his wife (Karen Krueger Slaght) and young son (Hendrik Arseniev Slaght).

Poaching Prey

I recently translated a book by Vladimir Arsenyev, a Russian explorer and naturalist who, a century ago, walked the same forests of the southern Russian Far East that I do now. The following passage—modified here for brevity—describes Arsenyev’s encounter with some trappers who had set up a drift fence to catch musk deer, a strange, shy animal that boasts fangs instead of antlers.

Keep in mind that Arsenyev’s description of a drift fence is from 1906:

“It was a fence 1.2 meters tall constructed of wind-fallen wood, which was staked down to keep from shifting. Drift fences such as these are always placed in the mountains blocking musk deer trails but with intermittent gaps that contain a suspended noose of rope. When a musk deer walks through, its head slips into the noose. The more the frightened deer struggles to escape, the tighter the noose becomes.”

This could easily be a description of the above photograph, a drift fence I found in 2004 just outside the border of the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve. The same method has been used by trappers in the Russian Far East for a hundred years.

Arsenyev continues:

“In this particular drift fence there were twenty-two nooses, and there were dead musk deer in four of them: three females and one male. The trappers dragged the females off to the side and left their carcasses to be consumed by ravens. When I asked why they would discard something they had caught, the trappers responded that only male musk deer have the commercially-valuable musk gland. According to them, each winter season they killed up to 125 musk deer, of which 75% were females.”

Given this sustained, incredibly wasteful, and non-selective form of trapping, no wonder musk deer are in trouble.

To see a photo of a musk deer, and to better understand why they are hunted, see a related post here.

HuntingDogPups-3

These are Far Eastern laika pups, hunting dogs in the logging village of Amgu in the Russian Far East, watching with some anxiety for their mother to return from a hunt.

While the hunting season is one of shameless joy and freedom for these dogs, a time when they plow breathless through the snow in pursuit of boar and deer, there is a scent in these forests that all dogs fear. Amur tigers are unabashed in their passion for dog meat; these predators go out of their way to stalk a laika should they sense one nearby. In fact, when hunters take stock of their resources before a hunting season, they often assume a dog or two will be lost to these enormous cats and account for that in their planning.

But now these two dogs are still just pups; they have not yet been to the forest to smell the predator. It is a fear they will learn with time.

UstSobolevka_TrucksUst-Sobelevka, a village of about two hundred people, is located at the mouth of the Sobolevka River in northern Primorye, Russia. It is almost impossible to reach; the road to it is more a labyrinth of mud and water than a thoroughfare, and few people make the journey. It is a sullen, wind-swept place populated by hunters and those with nowhere else to go, and where the tallest structure in town is the concrete skeleton of an orphanage never completed. This field, which occupies the few hundred meters of space between the village and the Sea of Japan, is inexplicably littered with rusting trucks; gravestones mourning the passing of better days.